In the second period of Monday night’s Game 3 win by Tampa Bay, Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov, on his way back to the bench for a line change, collides with Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya. Kucherov’s left skate takes Oduya’s legs out from under him and it was Blackhawk down. And perhaps out.
Kucherov received a two-minute minor for tripping, while Oduya received treatment for a likely injury. A key cog on the Hawks’ depleted blueline, Oduya left the game in the second and played reduced minutes in the third. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent.
There’s been some chatter that Kucherov’s move was a slew foot, an intentional act to upend his opponent – the old “accidental on purpose” play as it’s come to be known and as NBC's Pierre McGuire alludes to in the video. Whether you agree with this take or not, Lightning fans needn’t worry about supplemental discipline. It wasn’t close enough, at this time of the year, for it to merit more than a cursory review.
And that’s the rub. The logic the NHL uses when considering suspensions in the playoffs is fundamentally flawed.
We’ve heard it numerous times over the years: a two-game suspension in the post-season is like a four-gamer in the regular season. Or you can’t suspend someone on "that play" in the Stanley Cup final; the stakes are too high.
But that’s precisely why consistent justice should prevail. It’s no different than applying a different standard for penalties in the third periods or overtimes of playoff games than during the first or second. When the choice is made to be lenient or overlook a call, it ostensibly punishes the team that has been fouled. It's a double whammy.
Unlike the decision to impose suspensions, the league has no control over the number of games players miss when injured. Oduya won’t heal any faster in June than he would have in November. Maybe he comes back sooner in June, but he’d be playing hurt.
And if he is out of the lineup, it’s a tough blow for Chicago, multiplied 10-fold atthis time of the year. If he's sidelined, the Hawks would be without one of their most effective players at the most critical juncture of their season.
I’m not arguing Kucherov should receive a suspension for the trip. Clearly, the on-ice officials felt it was an infraction, not an incidental contact, or there wouldn’t have been a penalty called. Whether it was intentional or reckless enough to merit additional punishment is debatable. But that debate should not be influenced by the calendar.